Zama rallies to take Game 1 from Edgren
Zama American senior fullback Andre Encarnacion bulls through teammates and Robert D. Edgren defenders into the end zone for a touchdown near the end of the first half during Friday's Far East Division II football game at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Zama won 40-26, and now only needs a win or a loss by 13 points or less on Oct. 19 to clinch host rights to the Far East D-II title game on Nov. 10.
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – Raymond Bestor had tipped one pass into the hands of opposing receiver Tyrone Bacalso for one touchdown Friday. He slipped and fell on another play, giving Bacalso another easy TD catch. Now, Robert D. Edgren was driving again, trying to increase its lead to 20 as the first half ended.
Bestor was having none of it. The Zama American cornerback intercepted Edgren QB Tristan Jefferson’s pass at the goal line and ran it back 64 yards, setting up an Andre Encarnacion 4-yard scoring run 9.5 seconds before half.
The play helped rally the Trojans to a 40-26 victory in a crucial Division II battle. Zama scored 26 unanswered points, thanks in part to three takeaways that led to points. But it was Bestor’s interception that swung the momentum, Zama coach Steven Merrell said.
“That was a tremendous point in the game, a turning point in a lot of ways, very pivotal,” Merrell said.
“They were threatening to score before halftime, and not only did we get the pick, but we got the return and were able to score. I told the kids at halftime, good teams battle through the ups and downs, hang in through adversity, forget the last play, good or bad.”
With the win, Zama (4-3 overall, 3-0 Division II) is now in the driver’s seat to obtain host rights to the Nov. 10 Far East D-II title game. They face the Eagles (2-4, 2-1) again on Oct. 19, this time at Trojans Field; a win or a loss by 13 points or less gives Zama home field for the championship game.
Senior Andre Encarnacion ran for a season-high 217 yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries and “Thunder and Lightning” backfield mate Mitchell Harrison 60 yards and a score on four carries. RayVaughn King went 3-for-5 for 37 yards, including a 20-yard scoring pass to David Coleman.
“The whole offense was clicking very well,” Merrell said. “Andre was a workhorse once again. Mitchell ran well, David did some good things, RayVaughn did a good job of managing things and the line did a good job.”
Besides Bestor’s interception, Kalob Gunn picked off a pass and Jacob Davis recovered a fumble, each of which led to Zama points. The Trojans outgained the Eagles 359-272 on offense.
The Trojans’ victory spoiled a huge performance from Bacalso, who caught five passes for 148 yards and four touchdowns from three different quarterbacks.
Jefferson, hampered much of the second half by a leg bone bruise, was 8-for-19 for 125 yards and two touchdowns and ran 17 times for 71 yards; he had 225 all-purpose yards. Khalil Williams added 149 all-purpose yards. Jefferson, Leo Austin and Louis Murphy combined to go 13-for-30 for 331 yards.
Despite the loss, Edgren will still get to play for the title.
“We have three games with these guys. We have to decide what we want to do,” Eagles coach Blaine Miller said. “We’re in the championship. We’ll build from here. We’ll see how everything goes. Nobody’s crying. They still get to play for the trophy. All OK.”
Edgren visits American School In Japan on Saturday, while Zama travels to Yokota on Friday.